- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ELLETTSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - For every December evening as far back as Vicki Hardy can remember, bedtime for her two sons could wait until after the family bundled into their car for a nighttime cruise around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights.

“Every night, we got the car and went and looked at the same displays,” recalls Vicki, a retired teacher of 34 years who now substitutes at Edgewood Primary School.

A slow drive past local holiday-decorated houses is still a tradition for the Hardy family, but now it’s their own home that serves as a can’t-miss destination for friends and neighbors. And it’s impossible to miss 61 inflatable Christmas-themed lawn decorations.

“We’ll have lines,” Vicki told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1yPAxvi ). “Sometimes, I can’t always get into my driveway at night. But that’s fine, I just make a few laps, too.”

It all started in 2001 with a single inflatable Santa Claus. A gift from J.C. and David Hardy’s grandparents, the St. Nick simply needed to be plugged into a power source for a fan attached to the inflatable to blow it up to human size.

“We’d never seen anything like it,” said J.C. Hardy, now a 19-year-old freshman at Ivy Tech Community College. “It’s been here for 13 years now, and that’s how it all started.”

Every year since, the Hardys have added three or four new inflatables to their display.

The collection continued to grow after the Hardys moved to a home with a bigger yard in Ellettsville. Now, extension cords crisscross their lawn, weaving between the stakes and ropes that tie their five dozen inflatables to the ground.

“I keep saying no more, we don’t have any more room to store them. … Nah,” Vicki says, dismissing the notion with a wave of her hand.

Some of the lawn decorations stand at a child’s height, around 4 feet tall. Others reach 12 feet, and a few even top 20 feet. An inflatable SpongeBob SquarePants next to his pineapple under the sea is a newcomer this year, as is a robot with moving arms. J.C. and David have always been partial to inflatables that move, and as the boys have gotten older, the additions to the collection are bought with the children who visit their home in mind.

“Usually, we look for ones that are unusual-looking, not just the typical snowman,” says David, a junior at Edgewood High School. “Something out of the ordinary. The kids really like that. A lot of families make it an occasion to come by.”

Between 5 and 11 p.m., passers-by can see an inflated Snoopy and Woodstock of the Peanuts cartoons next to Snoopy’s red doghouse. Mr. Potato Head, the Cat in the Hat and Mickey Mouse stand only a few feet apart. Polar bears, penguins and a pig in a Santa hat can all be spotted on the Hardy’s lawn, as can Santa and snowman after Santa and snowman after Santa and snowman.

“One little boy, he swears that Santa Claus lives in our house,” Vicki said.

Because the family pays for electricity on a fixed-cost billing plan, Vicki doesn’t know the exact cost of running the inflatables. But it’s hard to put a price on a tradition neighbors have come to expect annually.

“We’d do it no matter what,” Vicki said.

Though the Hardys already have an inflatable Grinch in their yard, some folks have tried to steal their Christmas spirit. One year, after five of their inflatables were slashed and deflated, Vicki swore that the decorations would never go up again. Instead, the boys bought fabric tape and patches to repair the tears, and the inflatables were back in their yard again the next day.

“We can’t let some silly kids - and it was just some young teenagers - we just can’t let them spoil it for everybody,” Vicki said.

This season, the Hardy brothers added a musical component to their inflatable display. Using a transmitter that can plug into their phone line, the boys broadcast Christmas tunes on radio station 90.3 FM to accompany a drive by their display.

“You just hear it right in front of our house,” David said.

And it isn’t just the neighbors who enjoy the sights and sounds outside the Hardy home. The boys and their parents will sometimes join the queue of vehicles that parade past their home nightly.

“Even at their age, all four of us will get in the car and go drive and look at the lights and then drive by our own. We like to make sure everything is working,” Vicki said. “When it’s all said and done, they put up a sign up on Santa that says, ‘See you next year.’”


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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